Steelers looking forward to a strong offensive season

“Defense wins championships.”

Despite the effects of player safety rules that have allowed offenses to gain more yardage and score more points than ever before, defense remains the top priority for any team that wants a shot at Super Bowl glory. This was proven more than convincingly when the Seattle Seahawks decimated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Defense has always been the key to success in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have known it since the days of the Steel Curtain in the 1970s. Competition on the defensive front, however, has been very tough. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh’s rivals in the AFC North, all sported top-10 defenses at some point in the 2014 season.

Although Cleveland is hardly a threat with an offense that doesn’t know what to expect from new quarterback Johnny Manziel after letting go of quarterback Brian Hoyer, the Bengals and the Ravens will certainly stand as enormous obstacles to Pittsburgh’s return to the playoffs, and the Ravens almost certainly pose a substantial threat if both teams face each other in January.

What stands out for the 2015 Steelers is the number of question marks on the defense following a very weak performance last year by the Steelers’ lofty standards. While the Steelers’ run defense was sixth in the league last year, their pass rush was markedly weaker, ranking only 26th in sacks. The linebacker corps, however, are undeniably ready to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Veterans like linebackers James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons provide the team with tremendous leadership and production, and the young talents like linebackers Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree are ready to become a part of the long legacy of Steeler greats. Their secondary though, will have to quickly establish a new identity with the loss of longtime strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Brice McCain.

After the Steelers finished 27th in the league in passing yards allowed and making only 11 interceptions all season, someone will have to step up in order to revitalize the team’s defense. Rookie cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant are both promising talents to shore up the Steelers secondary, but veteran players like cornerbacks William Gay and Cortez Allen will have to lead the secondary to traditional Steelers expectations. Taking on the offensive juggernauts in the league will prove to be a challenge for this unit, and only time will tell whether or not they are ready for this task.

The offense, on the other hand, stands ready to take on any defense in the league, something Pittsburgh hasn’t been known for until last year. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley managed to turn the Steelers offense into a dynamic unit last year that saw quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have his best statistical season in the league.

Running back Le’Veon Bell proved to be made for more than just the Steelers’ traditional run-heavy offense with his ability to make big plays from dump-off passes, and he offered a much needed rushing threat to allow Roethlisberger some room from defenses that had to honor Bell’s talent.

The receiving corps are certainly some of the most talented Pittsburgh has ever had. Wide receiver Antonio Brown challenged Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson for the title of best wide receiver in the league; though Johnson was rated higher on NFL Network’s annual Top 100 Players list, Brown certainly came close for his dynamic contributions last season.

Receivers Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant both capitalized on the attention defenses had to give to Brown, combining for almost 1,200 yards and scoring plenty of touchdowns. Tight end Heath Miller remains a steady commodity for the offense, catching passes and blocking for others with almost equal ease.

Most importantly, the offensive line, long considered a weakness for the Steelers given how often opposing defenses had managed to get to Roethlisberger even if the line did not take him down, has undergone a remarkable boost over the past few years. With the support of offensive line coach Mike Munchak, the offensive linemen have formed an elite unit, particularly with young talent like center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro.

Overall, the Steelers seem poised to make a serious playoff run, though exactly how long it will last will likely depend on their success in the regular season. Pittsburgh certainly has the talent to win the AFC North, but Cincinnati and Baltimore will undoubtedly make strong challenges for that title. Among the elite teams in the AFC, the Steelers defense will surely be tested when they face the likes of the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts; however, armed with an offense that can match every point their foes score, the Pittsburgh Steelers have every reason to believe that they can bring home yet another Super Bowl victory .